A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Women"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"The Women"

by Clare Booth Luce
Directed by Russell R. GreeneNicholas Martin

Set Design by Randy Higgins
Lighting Design by John Murray
Costume Design by Sherilyn Levy
Properties by Victoria Crosby
Hair Design by Nicole Coelho
Stage Manager Tonee Jordan

Jane....................Kerry Clarke
Nancy...............Michele Mulvaney
Peggy...................Mariko Kanto
Sylvia................Donna Spurlock
Edith................Christine Power
Mary..................Kaja Schuppert
Countess de Lage.....Sandy Armstrong
Olga...................Jocelyn Hesse
1st Hairdresser........Laurie Fisher
Euphie..................Amy Flanagan
Miss Fordyce..........Virginia Beech
Little Mary..........Rebecca Stevens
Mrs. Morehead.............Jane Yoffe
Maggie..................Lessie Tyson
Miss Shapiro............Karen Wepsic
Miss Watts...........Victoria Crosby
Princess Tamara........Nicole Coelho
Crystal Allen.............Jen Condon
Miss Trimmerback.......Judy Leonardo
Lucy.................Sandi MacDonald
Miriam Aarons...........Ann Medaille

Each time I sit down at this keypad I wonder: Who will I have to disappoint today?
Isn't the life-blood of The Mirror all the Audition Calls and Special Announcements that come in every day through e-mail? Don't I owe attention to the reviewers who send me the work they've done? And every time I see a play, don't I owe them a review of my own as the price I pay for my free ticket? And, every day, if I spend my time working on any of these, don't I disappoint the others? Worse, what if I waste my precious time instead talking to a friend, or going to have blood-levels checked at the B.I., or writing a novel or a short-story? What if the pressure of deciding which of my friends to disappoint means the words for a review don't come and I disappoint everyone by sitting, incapable of doing anything? What if I run out of groceries and have to buy more?
I don't like disappointing my friends, the people I love, in any way --- but when a big, well-directed and joyously acted production of a witty, classy classic plays to empty seats, I feel I must disappoint everyone else this morning in order to tell everyone that "The Women" at Jamaica Plain's Footlight Club is a gloriously incisive, screamingly funny show that everyone should see.

Clare Booth Luce's big play premiered in 1936 --- when I was four --- and Sheralyn Levy, the Footlight's costomer, has given the cast of twenty-one actresses a fashion-parade of sumptuous gowns for (mostly) rich, bored upper-crust ladies of the post-Depression period. The subject of the play is divorce and the infidelities bringing it on, and Luce spins out her intricately interconnected stories through the medium of gossip --- juicily witty, bitingly insightful commentaries on all sorts of women and their unseen, offstage, rich, philandering hubbies. The play takes its audience into the privacies of bridge-parties, beauty-parlors, bedrooms, dressing-rooms, baths and Ladies' Rooms --- all the places where women take off their clothes and let down their hair, metaphorically and actually.

[12:17 --- Dare I take the time for breakfast? (Damn! I'm out of eggs...)]

Most of the women in "The Women" have (or will be) married for (at least) a second time, and much of their gossip is over a viciously gleeful wait to see when whichever of them has just left the room will learn what the rest of them know about her husband's extra-curricular activities. (Only one of them stays married to the same man throughout the entire play; she is perpetually pregnant.) The central story concerns the naive mother of two (Kaja Schuppert) learning from a manicurist that her husband pays the hotel-bills for an ex-salesgirl (Jen Condon), propelling her (along with her loving, catty crew of friends) to Reno Nevada.

Most of these women married not men but their money, and its less love than pride that's wounded in divorce. Still, the play glitters with nuggets of eye-opening truth that spans the full spectrum of women's lives. The final argument between husband and wife, for instance, is narrated by the only witness, an upstairs maid, to the cook, with their below-stairs comments thrown in. The operator of a Reno dude-ranch (Sandi MacDonald) wistfully wishes her husband wouldn't beat her so often. A husband's hard-working right-hand secretary, laughingly taunted as in love with him, snaps "Of course I am! But what has that to do with anything?" It's taken for granted that the social-climbing salesgirl who was never a debutant is selling her beautiful body the way others sold position or breeding or a family fortune. In three stinging scenes a seven-year-old daughter (Rebecca Stevens; she's eight) tries to cope with a breaking marriage and a wrenchingly different step-mother. And when the much-married Countess de Lage (Sandy Armstrong) falls for a young cowboy she takes him off to Hollywood to buy him a film career, only to lose him to.... Oh, that would be gossiping, wouldn't it?

These are uppity ladies with clear-eyed awareness of who they are and what they're doing, and so their initial contempt for the little innocent who blindly loves and trusts her husband makes her hard-knocks education that much more pointed. The fact that Luce's dialogue is everywhere sprinkled with quick, clawing wit only adds to the festivities. "The Women" is a neglected classic that Director Russell R. Greene and his twenty-one ladies bring gloriously to life. The only people short-changed here are those who, for no good reason I can think of, are not filling those many empty seats. Work this good deserves sell-out crowds.

(1:43 p m --- I'd better buy some eggs before going to another play tonight. Do I dare check my e-mail first, though?)


"The Women" (till 30 November)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN MA
1(617) 524-3200

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